Posted on May 7, 2015
LIAM: It’s clear your reflections which get expressed in your training role also found a voice in the songs, what were the cross overs and what makes song writing different to teaching/preaching/training?
STEVE:“There is indeed a lot of crossover, but there certainly are huge differences between the mediums. Songwriting (particularly when writing songs that are intended to be sung in community for the purpose of spiritual and political formation) just taps into a different part of the mind. There is much more freedom in songwriting than in teaching because I find it to be less academic… there is just less script. I still find myself teaching a lot more than song-writing these day. Fact is, however, I probably teach, preach and train more as a songwriter than I song-write as a teacher, preacher or trainer. I would call music my core instigator from which everything else flows. I mean when I’m cranking 15-20 hours worth of lectures there is just a natural rhythm and stomp that forms. I can’t help it. So I end up treating my teaching role more as a song… Which I think helps content land in interesting ways.
As far as content crossover, that is of course true. I’ve spent the last number of years teaching and training so much and in the process deepening many convictions and finding language to communicate those convictions. That language provided the backdrop for basically all of SoS/SoH.”
LIAM:There is an extraordinary breadth of implicit theology I could ask about all throughout the album, so I’ll pick one song and focus in; The phrase ‘The cross I see, looks more like a lynching tree’. In mainstream christianity, the cross is often held up as a symbol of salvation and redemption. What are you trying evoke as you make this comparison between atrocities in america’s recent past and the cross?
STEVE:“Let me first say that I am endlessly indebted to the work of James Cone when it comes to the comparison of ‘the cross and the lynching tree’. When I first read his book by the same title it was one of those mind exploding revelation moments. One of those moments where language is finally put to what you feel deeply but can’t articulate. Cone’s contribution to ‘black theology’ as a whole, coupled with Howard Thurman’s work in “Jesus and the Disinherited” reoriented so much of my theology of the cross towards a God who suffers with us.
The truth is the cross is (paradoxically) a symbol (or more fully an event) of salvation and redemption. But the real question is from what and for what and in what way? There are obviously mountains of atonement theories that have developed over the past two thousand years of Church experience… some which have become more entrenched than others… but honestly we need them ALL if we are to develop a healthy theology of the cross. A lot of our struggle as a Church, I believe, comes directly from our lack of willingness or ability to foster real “unity in diversity” (which is another way to talk about the work of reconciliation) in both our theology and praxis. I think in a modern western Church context that is especially true when we start to talk about the cross.
But before the cross is anything else, I would say it is a catastrophe. It is the unjust lynching of an innocent man by a mob of politically and religiously motivated folk… and it is precisely here, at this catastrophe, where we witness simultaneously the full extent of our human capacity to inflict violence and God’s willingness (in His mercy) to endure it, absorb it and overcome it through suffering love. At the cross we witness the God who suffers with us and that cross will forever live not only as a symbol of divine redemption and salvation, but divine solidarity.
In an American context, I agree whole heartedly with Cone, who asserts that if you want understand the cross you have to understand the lynching tree. It is right there where you will find Jesus dangling from a rope.”
LIAM:You are in for a big change soon in location, what are your hopes for the next step for the album and you as an artist?
STEVE:I’m not totally sure yet. When I started writing again it was a personal project and I had very little expectation of anyone ever listening to it. But I really think it’s hit a chord with a lot of folks in the worship/missions world and I’m happy about that. I wrote it with Christian communities in mind and am kind of blown away with the amount of positive feedback I’ve received. If this music can be of value to anyone else’s journey than I’m overjoyed and humbled.
I have a ton of speaking and music invitations in response to the record on top of my normal speaking stuff. I’ve accepted a few and it’s been fun to explore the rhythm of worship & protest in community contexts directly. So I’m excited to do more of that. I’m also feeling the push to incorporate music more and more into my normal rhythms of life and ministry, but I’m really not sure what shape that will take yet. A new environment will be good for exploration.
Beyond that (and this is still very early and rather uncommon knowledge) I’m starting to plan for a follow up record to SoS/SoH that I’m hoping to record in 2016 sometime.”
LIAM: Thanks Steve! and thanks for all the study, musing and writing it took to put this album out, as I said in my original review, I’m hoping it contributes to a widening of the current worship music scene in its focus, language and style.
You can Buy Steve’s album on Bandcamp here, which, in case you haven’t guessed yet, I heartily recommend!
Even before I was working in South Africa I was working in a reasonably self-directive environment. I don’t suspect I am a naturally organised person1, but I’ve developed some skills to pull it out of the bag when I need to.
That being said I also love to collect information 2, the danger is to learn and create systems round productivity that end up becoming the most ironic killers of actual productivity.
Arguably learning a skill is more useful that have natural talent because, you have to fight for it, you discover the mechanics and component parts in ways that are simply intuitive for those with talent in the same area.
All that to say, I’ve done a good bit of reading, slightly less practioning, but feel like I have a good grasp on common wisdom related to it. Thats why I think you should check out Jim Martins blog, Jim in 10 points shares most of the common wisdom I’ve heard in a bite-size way.
Here’s a few of my favourites;
- I will work for 25 minutes and then take a break. For larger projects, I will work for 90 minutes and take a break.
For years, I focused on making lists… However, I am now very intentional about placing these items on my actual calendar with a start/stop time scheduled.
Exercise. For many years, I ran either in the mornings or the afternoons. Now I go to a gym. There have been times in recent weeks in which I stopped going to the gym regularly. This resulted in a noticeable drop in my energy level.
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A few weeks ago I wrote a review of our friend Steve Schallert’s new album, Songs of Sorrow | Songs of Hope. As I mentioned in the review, the album has been easily one of the most played records this year for me, and so questions have been coming up as I’ve listened and I asked Steve whether he would answer some on here. He agreed, and this is the first part of that interview;
LIAM: So last time you recorded you were unmarried and had no kids, right? How do you think that dynamic impacted the song writing and your style as a musician in general?
STEVE: “That’s true, the last record I did was nearly a decade ago and the dynamics of life have totally shifted since then. I would’t say that having a family has deeply changed my style or voice or direction as much as it has the writing process itself. It’s tough after all to pull all nighters as I used to with little ones in toe… I’ve grown a lot as a human-being over the past ten years. Becoming a husband and then a father times three has certainly tuned me in to new emotional head spaces and insights and struggles as I’ve tried and often failed miserably to love my wife and kids well. But if anything, I would say the new dynamic has just brought more honestly and maturity to the content and craft.”
LIAM: I know some folks in your family were dealing with serious health problems during the season of writing, what influence do you feel the season you were in had on the songs?
STEVE:“Writing kind of became a coping mechanism for me to deal with that reality. I’m not sure if the record would have even gotten started if it weren’t for that struggle instigating it. Living in Southern Africa, half a world a way from my family who were all facing that kind of physical suffering head on affected me more than I think I ever let on. The distance brought an ambiguity to the pain for me and so I often felt removed from their reality. But the music in many ways kept me grounded and connected to the pain my family was going through… and yes I think it seeped it’s way into the content of the record a lot. I would say the record is rather “raw” and certainly writing in the midst of what was going on in my family elevated that honesty… Which in turn is what I believe the modern worship community really needs more and more of… more honestly, more vulnerability, more humanity… It’s the stuff that fosters community and togetherness… worship ought to be a gathering force in that regard.”
LIAM: Do you have a favourite song on the album?
STEVE: “I can locate and connect stories to a lot of the songs. The whole record is rather personal, maybe even biographical in that way, so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. But if I had to pick one at the moment I would say “In Lumine Tuo Videbimus De Lumen” (which means “In Thy light we shall see the light” by the way). It just wraps up the whole heartbeat of the album to me, which is why I wanted to finish with it. Thomas Merton always said it was his favorite phrase in Latin and I can see why. The phase is such a good recognition that revelation, more often then not, comes not in waiting but in motion. That hits the worship/protest heartbeat right on the head.
LIAM: You’re pioneering an idea (or at least renewing an idea), that Worship is Protest; How does protest look like for you in daily life outside of music and how would you direct those who have heard this album and want to take steps in their lives towards the kind of protest you are singing about?
STEVE:“This is a huge question with huge implications. The interconnection of worship and protest (or more aptly engaging in worship AS protest) has been a natural development in my own life and spirituality. A little over a decade ago I was rather wrapped up in the protest scene. During the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 I had just started university which provided an outlet for all of my angst and anger and dismay along side folks who were actively engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience work in protest of the war. My faith at that point was rather shaky… rather nominal and cultural more than anything honest… But, maybe kind of backwards, it was actually these movement folks who “saved me.” I remember watching one evening from the back of the protest line as two priests from Grand Rapids, MI (my old stomping grounds) were handcuffed for blocking the entrance way to an army recruitment center via kneeling in prayer and thinking… “Wait… what the?! Who is THIS Jesus?” It really rocked my world and sent me down a rabbit trail that would reignite this passion for the person of Jesus in me that is all consuming at this point. That passion is more alive today than ever before and certainly is the foundation of my new musical journey.
It’s been over ten years since then and life with Jesus has brought all kinds of mischief along with it. Today my family continues to work with an international missions “organism” called Youth With A Mission (YWAM) where we help train and promote active peacemaking, works of justice and compassion for the poor within the global YWAM network.
For folks looking to move beyond the record and engage more fully in a life of theological and political imagination, here are a few quick thoughts of what I would say are important starting point (at least they were important for my own journey):
- Begin with relationship, not theory. Actively engage in fostering friendship with the poor and marginalized among you. Conversion which leads to a life of worshipful protest really only comes from relationship and proximity to those who suffer. So we must stop treating the poor like objects and engage them instead as fellow subjects, peers, or better yet teachers. I would tie into this the need for healthy mentorship, especially for us young folk.
That said, read…. read a lot. Especially authors, theologians and activists FROM marginalized communities. Meditate and memorize their words! The beautiful thing about being baptized into to this thing called Church is that we have a new family to learn from. There is so much wisdom in the generations who have struggled before us for a better world, so let’s not reinvent the wheel. I heard someone once say that if you want to innovate with integrity you have to be rooted in tradition. That really resonates with me and I think it’s a timely word for our generation’s tendency to want to distance themselves from basically anything that has come before us.
Finally I would say to organize your life around people instead of projects. In the long run community is the only thing that will sustain a worshipful life of protest. So gravitate towards folks who sustain your growing heartbeat for the works of mercy. Projects are great (I run some), training schools are needed (I run those as well), media advocacy is important (hit me up on facebook ;-), but at the end of the day when the projects have flopped and the schools have run their course and the “like buttons” aren’t getting as much love as they used to it is friendship and fellowship that will keep your soul alive. So, run after community.”
Thanks Steve, the second part of the interview to be posted soon! If you want to make sure you catch it, sign up to receive this blog by email
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LIAM: I have begun to notice a trend in myself and I realised I was not alone. I’d be moving along in a process with those I was leading, trying to be discussional, create consensus, when suddenly we would hit a point where I would either be highly tempted, or give into the temptation to be strong and directive. Why the sudden switch? Why weren’t there 10 steps between those two forms of leading? I decided to ask Noah Kaye, who wrote here a couple of weeks ago, and I may ask one or two others to chime in on the subject;
Leadership is tricky. The longer I live in it, the less I’m sure I agree with most popular definitions of it.
Here’s one small leadership tendency that my buddy asked me to reflect on: all too commonly, a leader will be leading with grace and consensus making everyone feel involved and heard and then BAM, they switch styles. From gentle to firm. From soft to hard. From diplomatic to direct. And it surprises and hurts people. I’ve done it. I did it a month ago when I didn’t like a direction my team was going. But, why? What happens to cause the quick switch? I suggest two things are most commonly behind this:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so… Read More
The Oyster Review just posted their top 100 books of the decade, a dizzying feat which saw their staff read 1000 books in order to make the decision. In their words, naming “Open City” as the number one spot was the least contentious decision of the whole escapade.